It's Almost Over, Preds Migrate North, Trade Possibilities, Bettman Talk

Hello hockey fans. I hope you are all getting ready for the Stanley Cup Finals, starting Monday. This means that for people who can buy beer, start stocking up your inventory. For people who cannot buy beer yet, get your parents to stock up the inventory. And for those of you who cannot drink at all, well….just eat something that satisfies you.

The Nashville Predators will most likely move up North. What a shame, I liked this team.

Some trade possibilities and other moves that may surprise you.

And yes….Bettman discussion time and I’m ready to get grilled for it! By the way, I prefer charcoal, not gas.

So, it will be the Anaheim Ducks against the Ottawa Senators. I think this is more intriguing than last year’s Stanley Cup Final, wouldn’t you say? I loved to watch the Oilers, and Eric Staal, but two underdog teams don’t really make it all too exciting. What I find interesting is that in 2004, the Calgary Flames made it to the Finals. In 2006 the Oilers made it to the Finals, and in 2007 the Senators make it to the Finals.

Is this not telling you something? Especially Canadians. I think this says “it’s due”. The Cup has another chance landing in wonderful Canada where it was born. The last time a Canadian team won the Cup was in 1993, the Montreal Canadiens. How does that make Maple Leafs fan feel? And what could be the first Canadian team to win the Cup since, the Ottawa Senators. How does that make Leafs fans feel? Two rival teams with glory, eh? I’d check myself into rehab if this was the other way around where the last US team to win the Cup were the New York Islanders and the team to win it last time since would be the New Jersey Devils.

But anyway, I have a lot of sympathy for a Canadian team to win the Cup and bring it home, and yes…I really like the Senators. I like Heatley, I like Spezza, Preissing, Fischer, Schaeffer, and Redden, and others. I grew up the past years watching the Senators be one of the most skilled teams in the league and falling short. Yet, I cannot help myself but think about my disliking of John Muckler and Bryan Murray. Muckler chants at MSG are still going on in my mind, and for those of you who don’t know what Rangers fans chanted back in those years when Muckler was coaching, well…just drop the M and add and F. As for Bryan Murray….this guy was like a plague to many teams; they Murray brothers in general. I remember that Mighty Duck squad that did so well that year and almost won the Stanley Cup, and Paul Kariya was a god. And I was thinking that these guys were close to possibly winning it again. Yet, it all ended because of Murray. The team was losing money, the changes were horrible and Murray ran away like a coward from GM to head coach as he turned his back on Anaheim burning in flames! Yes, I wanted to add some dramatic twist. But, I really came to dislike him since that and I just wish that the Ducks get their revenge on him.

Why do I also like the Ducks? I like Brian Burke. If Burke hasn’t proven himself as one of the best GMs in the league then I don’t know what more he needs to do. He is probably one of the most well liked GMs by owners. The guy comes in, makes quick changes and next thing you know, you’re making money! And, your team is winning! I don’t care if you talk about his personality or that he is a drunk or whatever. The guy knows how to run a hockey club and does it fast. Think about the changes that took place in Anaheim ever since he took over. He let Mike Babcok walk out. That was considered a bit of a crazy move since Mikey led that team to a Cup Final. He hired a coach that never coached an NHL team before. He brought in Scott Niedermeyer. He brought back Teemu Selanne. He slashed the payroll, trading Sergei Fedorov, Vaclav Prospal, Petr Sykora, Sandis Ozolinsh. He let Ruslan Salei walk. He traded for Chris Pronger. He didn’t acquire anyone flashy in February and that decision to not choke, panic, and trade away youth ended up earning him a Cup Final. And, this Ducks team is making money. Think about it. Wasn’t this team purchased for just about $90M or so? It must be worth double that figure now. Why? Burke does his job, and I admire that. For hockey fans who fantasize about becoming general managers, this is one guy to study, to learn from. Being a GM is not all about trades and players, it’s about making your owner happy with wins and $$$$$. Burke does it, and he did it fairly quickly in Vancouver, and he did it again in Anaheim, very quickly.

So, while I wouldn’t mind seeing the Senators raise the Cup and all of Canada will be cheering, I’d really like to see the Ducks pull it off because of such effort that was put on this team. Besides, I think the West is also due for a Cup, no?

I want this to be a nice series, well played, and I think that all hockey fans should really pay attention to it, closely. If you want hockey to be a good sport again, you have to be a good sport as well and support it, not just criticize and complain about it.

By the way, I won’t make any predictions since I truly stink at it. If I make a prediction and choose the winner, then I bet the fans of that team would hate me since I’d be most likely wrong! So, I’ll let this one play itself out.

What a shame that the Nashville Predators are leaving country music land. I reallt thought this team was going to gain more fan base these past couple of years, but….it’s just not happening and not enough. Still, let’s look at this for a moment:

Atlanta Flames

California Golden Seals

California Seals

Cleveland Barons

Colorado Rockies

Hamilton Tigers

Hartford Whalers

Kansas City Scouts

Minnesota North Stars

New York Americans

Oakland Seals

St. Louis Eagles

Winnopeg Jets

Nashville Predators.

So….what’s the big deal? For some reason people are making a big deal about this as if it’s almost like something scandalous and all of Gary Bettman’s fault. Hmm, we’ll get back to that later on. But look folks, teams succeed and fail in all sports. In Nashville, who knows…marketing may have been done poorly on Mr. Leipold’s part, or not enough was done to rally fans into the building. It happens. Some owners give it a shot because they can, they are rich people and they can afford to lose $15M as if that’s like losing 1500 bucks for any average Joe, which is a lot, but not disastrous. If anything, people should be excited about a change coming. I was excited when teams changed, or when new teams came in the NHL. So, while it’s a shame to see Nashville out of the picture, hey….it contributed well to the NHL. I remember that first year when they joined the league and I was playing, I think EASports NHL 97, or 98, and I remember using the Predators and I scored bunches of goals with Sergei Krivokrasov, or Vitali Yachmenev….Andy Brunette was there, even former Ranger Darren Turcotte! And I remember when Mike Dunham had that really good season and one of the intro to the EA NHL series was with the song from Collective Soul “All Your Weight”. It was cool. This was a cool team, it did well for almost 10 years, and I think they’ll play another year though before moving, right? So, it will be in NHL history with its ten year existence, three post-season appearances, and a solid team.

Where will the team move now? Hamilton or Kitchener are the most popular places talked about, but how will that affect the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference? I’d like to see a real battle of Ontario consisting of Toronto, Ottawa, and whichever of the two small cities. And, it’s not like this is an expansion team. The Predators are a good team and they’d match up well. So, it would really be a shame if the NHL forces Toronto in the Western Conference, as it happened once, I believe, and not too long ago either. So, what is to happen? Do we change the system/format? Do we just add one more team to the East? It really throws things off balance. Now, if the Predators move to Winnipeg, which I’d prefer, or if not in Canada then in Seattle, then things would be easy to change.

So, anyone got a clue? And no, do not bring up the idea of one Eastern team moving because none of them will.

By the way, let’s look at the recent history of expansion teams since the 1990’s. The San Jose Sharks have become a top team in the West. The Anaheim Ducks, with ownership change, have made the Stanley Cup Finals twice. The Nashville Predators have made the post-season three times. The Atlanta Thrashers have made the post-season, and are a healthy team as far as ownership. The Tampa Bay Lightning won a Stanley Cup. The Florida Panthers have reached the Stanley Cup Finals once. Columbus Blue Jackets have still struggled, but have a good fan base and hockey does well in Ohio. The Minnesota Wild have had a good run, and Minnesota is a great hockey state.

So let me get this straight……how have these expansion teams been SO bad? Why are people complaining about how there are too many teams? If they succeeded fairly, then what’s there to complain about? If these teams did poorly overall then I would agree. But, eight expansion teams and four Stanley Cup Final appearances. Seems good to me, and some need a better general manager, like Columbus and Atlanta. Once they do, and these two teams start getting competitive, then they were both worth it…..and I strongly believe they will.

The market will be intriguing this year. So far here is what’s going on. Since I am in Florida, I’ll start with the Panthers. They need to straighten out the goalie status. Recently there have been rumors about Manny Fernandez. I am not a fan of his since he is not really a consistent starting goalie yet his salary says otherwise, but if the tandem would be Fernandez-Belfour, I’d give it thumbs up. The Panthers are still undecided, so it may be a trade once we reach Draft day. It may be that the Panthers are actually looking to slash some salary to make a run at J-S Giguere on July 1st. It may be that the Panthers may find interest in prying Blue Jacket Pascal LeClaire and grooming him into a solid starting goaltender. Jacques Martin will be tested as a GM this summer, and he wants this team to make the playoffs. So, expect the Panthers to make one move to push the team in the playoffs.

The Tampa Bay Lightning need to resolve their goaltending issue as well. Seriously, would you depend on Johan Holmqvist next season as your starting goalie after one okay season? They’ll try to dump Marc Denis, but overall….they don’t have many options as they are kinda stuck. Will they trade one of their big name forwards? I don’t think they plan to, but it’s definitely a back-up plan for a couple of reasons. One, they may really be in desperate need of a goalie. And the second reason, well….we’ll get back to that soon.

I think Chris Drury will be the odd man out in Buffalo because he has not really shown much desire to stay, unlike Daniel Briere who pretty much said he’d go for a home discount. Still, do not rule out the possibility of both of them staying. If Teppo Numminen leaves as a UFA, or takes a big pay cut, if ales Kotalik gets traded, and if Dmitri Kalinin gets traded, we’re talking over $4M off the payroll. Now, add $4M to the budget since the salary cap is expected to hit $48M, possibly. The Sabres now have around $8M to work with. I think Briere will go for a $6M p/y deal, which means a $1M raise. Drury would most likely take a $6M p/y as well, and that’s about a $3M raise. Tomas Vanek will seek a $4M p/y contract. Where are we? About $8M with all that work done, and possibly we could see Jaroslav Spacek traded as well, which means more room freed up.

Is it a must for the Sabres to lose their key forwards? No. It’s doable to keep that core and they have good players in the minors to use. So, expect the Sabres to lose salary by trading.

Why is everyone so quiet on the Carolina Hurricanes? They missed the playoffs, you bet that changes are coming.

The New Jersey Devils will lose Scott Gomez, which means they’ll need to find a replacement. I don’t think they will get it via free agency, and Lamoriello has been too quiet on the trade front for the past couple of years. Maybe he would take Kotalik and Kalinin?

Continuing that second reason regarding the Lightning. This year’s UFA pool is quite low profile, not much talent out there, but solid depth players for sure. Some teams are looking to acquire star talent. So, I think there is a chance at some point where a team that missed out on players that it needed, will look to make a big trade.

With that idea that the free agent pool is not stellar, expect to see some RFA offers. Tomas Vanek? You bet. I hear Pierre-Marc Bouchard of the Wild, …..I guess? Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss…and other well knows RFAs will be sought after teams that need talent, and will they give up a few drafts for it? Yes. Why? Most of these RFAs are young players who have yet to hit their prime years and are proven NHL’ers. So, don’t be surprised to see something happen like that this year and it all started with Bob Clarke last year making an offer sheet to Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler.

Ah yes, here we are now with the Gary Bettman talk. Get ready to grill me folks. I got salt, spices……. By the way, I do a really good rack of baby back ribs. I use Lawry’s seasoned salt, on the membrane skin side (under) and before doing so I like to make cuts on the meat so when rubbing spices, it stays in there. Then orange ginger salt spice, habanero spice (yes I like spicey), and then marinating them for at least five hours in this ginger teriyaki marinade. I did this back in December when it’s still nice down here to have BBQ. Anyway, back to hockey.

As many of you know, I have stepped up and defended the NHL commissioner a couple of times. Does it mean that I approve all of his decisions? No. Do I like him? Personally I don’t know him but he is known as a good family man, but as far as his work…not entirely. I think he’s made errors. But, I received this thick magazine from the Florida Panthers called Rinkside, and in there Stan Fischler has a very intriguing interview with Gary Bettman. There are some parts that I found interesting enough to share with you fellow hockey fans.

Before the interview, there are some things mentioned in this article such as:

“Thanks in large part to the Commissioner, New Jersey still has an NHL franchise (potential threat of leaving NJ in 1995).”

“Likewise, Western Pennsylvania hockey fans are tipping their fedoras in Bettman’s direction now that it is assured that their Penguins are guaranteed a new rink to replace the antiquated, obsolete Mellon Arena “Igloo” in Downtown Pittsburgh. ‘THANK YOU, GARY BETTMAN!!’ proclaimed a headline on a Pittsburgh fan’s blog.

The reaction symbolized the feeling of fans in Buffalo and Ottawa, where bankrupt teams were revived not only with the Commissioner’s guidance but with his significant intervention. When skeptics scoffed at the idea of the NHL returning to Minnesota or launching a new team in Columbus, Bettman enthusiastically backed the moved. Once again, he was right. Minnesota’s Wild sell out virtually every game and Columbus has turned into a cash cow among expansion franchises.”

“Calgary Flames co-owner Harley Hotchkiss–chairman of the NHL’s Board of Governors– has worked closely with Bettman for more than a decade. Once of their challenges was preserving the fiscal integrity of Canada’s small market franchises.”

“Without question, before we were able to craft the current CBA, the Commissioner helped save teams such as the Flames, Oilers, Senators, Canucks with his currency equalization program” said Hotchkiss.

“Even more impressive is the manner in which the league rebounded from a one-year work stoppage and quickly regained its fiscal health.”

“For any industry not to be in business for a year and then come back with record revenues may be unheard of in the history of business; not just a sports league,” said Bettman. “That’s a testament to the strength of our game and our great fans. It’s consistent with the fact that we set an all-time attendance record in 2005-2006.”

Rinkside: “What’s your answer to critics who claim you should have remained with ESPN?”

Bettman: “Over time, people will come to believe that this was the right decision for us. In the short term, we have our critics but nothing that we didn’t expect. ESPN was a good partner but ESPN has everything and, to me, the layoff treatment we got last year from VERSUS–double headers, hockey movies, intermissions devoted to hockey, wrap-up shows, post-game press conferences–was important to us. We were ensuring that hockey fans were getting what they wanted while giving people who might not follow The Game as much–or might not understand it– an opportunity to get close to us. Distribution is something we knew we were giving up in the short run in order to get the importance and the treatment that we get from VERSUS. And they’ve increased by about 8.5 million homes in a year and a half. Now they’re in more than 70 million homes. “

Rinkside: “What aspect of hockey would you like to see improved?

Bettman: “There are too many stereotypes about our sport. Such as; ‘You can’t watch it on TV.’ That’s not true. Or, ‘It’s too confusing and too violent.’ Not true. Breaking down these stereotypes is something I’d like to change overnight. If I could do that, people would discover how great and wonderful our game is and how gifted our athletes are.”

Rinkside: “Some critics argue that you would like to eliminate fighting from The Game.

Bettman: “It’s fascinating to me to see articles and commentary that say we’re either encouraging fighting or, on the other hand, discouraging it. Frankly, I don’t know how we can manage to do both at the same time. I’ve always believed in that, because of the physical nature of our game, that fighting will have a place and it always will find its appropriate level. We basically haven’t changed the fighting rules in 15 years.”

Rinkside: “How do you put up with the media’s criticism of you?”

Bettman: “It doesn’t bother me. You don’t take this job if you are thin-skinned and you don’t do it for as long as I have if that stuff bothers you. I’ve always had a rule. When people write, the good is never as good as it seems and the bad is never as bad as it seems. The only thing that concerns me when I read an article is if the facts are right. When people are writing based on faulty premises that’s a concern–not because of the ultimate conclusion, but I don’t want our fans being given misleading information. You want to give a list of facts and say for all these reasons we are going to criticize you or praise you, that’s fine. But get the facts right.”

Hmm, okay. The rest of the interview is lengthy, but I took out the key parts that I believe fans like you and me need to see. Again, you don’t have to necessarily like Bettman. I don’t fully support him, but he says things that are just, clear, and gives me the reason to get upset at journalists and fans that just bomb the guy with unfair finger pointing and making absurd accusations. The NHL may not be a top sport, but it’s a good sport. The NHL’s economics are healthy and so when people read one meaningless article of how the New Jersey Devils game against the…I don’t know, Carolina Hurricanes game generated a really low number in TV ratings, and the conclusion is “this league is doomed! Blame Bettman!” I laugh at that. I mean, where are all the anti-salary cap people? Where are all the pro-union, pro-Bob Goodenow people who hated the idea of a salary cap and how it was going to kill the sport? How it was not going to be fair for players?

I am not saying that Bettman has done a great job as Commissioner, but like he said…when people write bad things, they are not as bad as they seem. The guy deserves some credit for hard work and the good things he has done for the game.

Anyway, I hope you found this one interesting because the mikster may be taking a break of some sort, as far as writing my column here. But, enjoy the Stanley Cup Finals and take some time off to prepare for the June draft and the best time of the summer, July’s free agency.

Thanks for reading as always,

Micki Peroni